Building Stuff: Scenes

In my last post, I was talking about planning an adventure. We got as far as figuring out what the adventure would be about. Like a campaign goal, this is very high-level (strategic?) and has very few specifics about what will happen (operational?) or how they will happen (tactical?).

Honestly, the tactical nuances of an adventure – how things happen – I leave to the table. That’s why I do one-pagers. One-pagers give me my operational framework (events, places, and NPCs with which the PCs might interact) without getting to far into the weeds. But what if you want all the juicy details? What if you want to make sure, before the game happens, that each character will have a chance to be in the spotlight? That each character will have a chance to do what the player wants the character to do?

I think it is in everyone’s best interests that the GM be as responsive to my players’ interests as possible. At the level of the campaign, the very high-level strategic view of the game, one way of doing this is including them in the design process by having them help in creating create the campaign – I support this wholeheartedly, and rules and guidelines for this are going to be included in Nefertiti Overdrive, should it fund. But that happens at the campaign outset. What about during the adventure? What can one do to insure one has met the players’ interests during each adventure?

I’ve hardwired player interests into the rules for every game I’ve designed. I call them Pivots. In Nefertiti Overdrive, the Pivot section begins with:

A Pivot is a goal toward which the character strives. It is also a signal to the GM of the kind of situations and hooks which the player desires for the character.

If you look at the Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart, you’ll notice that each encounter in the adventure is keyed to certain characters’ Pivots. You can literally build an adventure by looking at the characters’ Pivots. And if you aren’t playing one of my games (jerk!), you might not have the specific tool I use in the design of an adventure, but there must be something on to which you can latch. If it’s D&D 5E, you’ve got Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws, all of which you can use to help shape adventures, not to mention Background and class traits like the Martial Archetype or the Druid Circle.

So, we’ve got an adventure in which the characters are going to Robin Hood the Assyrians (I like using Robin Hood as a verb). If I am going to write out an adventure in full, I break everything into scenes. Scenes are basically the items from a one-pager fleshed out to include all the pertinent data. In the Quickstart you can see some examples of this. Basically, it turns every item in my one-pager into a scene, and every scene is boiled down to a one-pager.

Let’s look at a couple at the Amazon and see how we can use Pivots to build the scenes in an adventure.

The Amazon’s Pivots are: “I shall prove that I am indeed a worthy queen of a warrior tribe” and “No man is my better.” So what does a worthy queen mean? I think one thing we can attribute to worthy queens, whether they be warriors or bureaucrats, is generosity. What about justice? I’d give the PCs a wealthy ally in the city, someone still supporting the Kushite dynasty. Throw in a scene in which that ally expects all of his wealth back after the PCs liberate spoils from the Assyrians. The thing is, the little people are desperate for money because they are starving. It would be interesting to see how the Amazon reacts to this, and if the player doesn’t get involved have whichever side seems to be losing the argument turn to her for support.

The “No man is my better” is the easiest Pivot to hit in Ancient Egypt, because every man is going to assume he is better than the Amazon, either tougher or smarter. Give her a chance to show them up. Usually, I do this with an Assyrian or Saite loyalist hero and give the Amazon a one-on-one fight. When running the adventures that will be included in Nefertiti Overdrive with my home group, the Amazon had a nemesis she regularly encountered, and you could make this character a male mirror-image of her, giving her someone who constantly challenges her. One key thing about this in Nefertiti Overdrive‘s rules is because the players get to decide what happens when a Challenge is removed from the scene, it’s important to get the player’s buy-in for nemeses so that when they are removed from a scene, no one ever sees a body, and then the nemesis can show up again in a later scene.

That turns out to be pretty satisfying for the player and a great way to shine that spotlight on the character.

You can find the Building Stuff series here.

You can find the free Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart rules here.

You can learn more about Nefertiti Overdrive here and here.

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